In the Santa Cruz lexicon, there are three words that never fail to set the town ablaze: High Surf Advisory.

People line up along the coast, bringing their kids, dogs, significant others, and a wide assortment of camera equipment to bear witness to the ocean’s fury. Only a few are actually brave enough to surf, but that’s alright – most people are there just to see the waves. It’s a beautiful thing to see how vastly different groups of people are drawn to the coast, all feeling the ancient and inexplicable pull of the ocean. Most tourists flock to the beach during the summer, but the natives know that the real show doesn’t start until the end of the year.

Today, an impending storm brought one of the first such warnings of the season. In this particular case, however, the phrase “high surf” didn’t really seem to do it justice. When I went out tonight for my own daily pilgrimage to the shore, it seemed much more like the ocean was making a valiant attempt at luring my hometown back into its grip.

The waves were immense, but they were kicking up so much vapor that they looked more like huge pieces were breaking off of the clouds on the horizon and rolling straight into the bay. Further up, the sunset turned the layers of mist into a glowing pink nimbus, highlighting the waves as they loomed out of the murky depths. At first, they were barely visible as a strip of whitecap, far too high off the surface to be real. Then suddenly, they materialized into a barrel of water as gray as the sky behind, moving at an incredible pace and deflecting violently off of whatever cliff surface they encountered, ricocheting into crazy, unnatural mountains of water that moved parallel to the rest of their brethren.

While running alongside this spectacle, it was hard to separate the sea from the sky, and even harder to tell where I ended and the sea began. The cloud of saltwater in the air clung to me like my own sweat, and I couldn’t tell if the moisture on my face was from my own exertion or the ocean’s. The crowds of people wavered in and out of the mist, and the headlights of approaching cars were the only indication that the world didn’t end around the next bend in the road.

In other words, today was a day when the lines between the land and the ocean got slightly blurry. And that, ladies and gents, is what I call a Damn High Surf Advisory.